New England

After the First Great Awakening, in the New England United States of America, the churches that grew out of that momentous religious event became stagnated in their spiritual freshness. The Presbyterian and Congregational Churches becoming what today are considered "mainline" churches. The latter voting to become Unitarian by the droves. The beginnings of the revival in New England, can be dated at around 18001 with the founding of the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine its function to report on a budding phenomenon of rejuvinating rains from on High.

The real start of this Awakening was at Yale College in 1801 as membership in the student "Moral Society" saw an exponential rise in their numbers due to the preaching of that school's president, Timothy Dwight. He was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who was an interim force inbetween the two tremendous "Stirrings." Even though by liberal standards he was considered too "Puritan," his teaching emphasized virtues of living in happiness as a temporal reward for living in practical morality. His teaching is what gives the Puritan tradition its reputation as one that promoted moral legalism, albeit his version is differed from traditional Reformed thought with one that was free of believer's choice in ethical situations. His grandfather Edward's "true virtue" philosophy contained more metaphysical passion for God and His works, and was more experiential. Church discipline was emphasized in both traditions, also.

Powerful Holy Spirit activity was effected in 1815 for a year, and again in 1820 for another couple, especially in New Haven where an understudy to Dwight, Nathaniel William Taylor, professor of theology at Yales's Divinity School] was challenging the upstart liberalism. He diverged somewhat from traditional Reformed teaching where he taught that man becomes sinful from his own actions: a situation that might happen, but not always necessarily. (A position this avowed Calvinist held that was a bit more Arminian than even John Wesley). An appeal to the Jacksonian Democratic ideals was possible with preachers that worked on making revival occur, rather than just appearing as some Sovereign Act. But the consensus amongst observers of this Second Great Awakening was that it was a calm thankfulness, not hysterical outburst (like in the First One) for something that was the Almighty's Travail, not mortal architecture. The liberal critics had more respect for this movement than its predecessor, but a more conservative critic, Bennet Tyler founded a Theological Institute of Connecticut to promote more purer Edwardseanism. He had a proponent in this mode of thought in Asahel Nettleton as another very , who adamantly agreed with the Providential aspect of what was happening -- typically Edwardsean -- while he ironically actively assumed the role of a successful evangelist pleading with sinners to repent.

In 1825-26, and 1831 there was another outburst of Spritual Renewal, and around this time the Temperance Society in Boston, MA was founded, touting total abstinence from alcohol. Interestingly, the original Puritans distilled Rum for normal social funtions and was attacked by rationalists like John Adams on physical, mental and health reasons. Lyman Beecher, (eventual president of Lane College) so closely aligned with Taylor, that he is buried next to him in New Haven, was especially active in this endeavor (his Six Sermons used widely), as well as defending the Protestant cause against encroaching Unitarianism. Earlier in 1813, Beecher had helped found the Connecticut Society for the Reformation of Morals, decrying vices that "are digging the grave of our liberties.... and preparing to entomb our glory" by Jeffersonians and reprobates. (Neal Dow started the trend toward state's laws of prohibition with the Maine Law of 1846.) The American Tract Society was founded in 1825 in New York out of the previous local and New England ones merging. And, by 1824 an American Sunday School Union was organized. The missionary societies that had started springing up in the 18 teens were consolidated into an American Home Missionary Society in New York in 1826, these sent apostles into the West.

the West

The foundational work first by Presbyterians, then Baptists and Methodists in areas west of the Appalachian Mountains started in earnest after the settlements became increasingly safer from dangers of Indigenous warriors, Colonial Wars, and other frontier adventurers.

The Presbyterian Reverend was Scots-Irish James McGready, who moved back to Pennsylvania from North Carolina for study under John McMillen and Redstone Presbytery. He was fortunate enough to be in charge of the parishes in Kentucky where at Gasper River Church 1800 they had the sheltered outdoor meeting over several days.

Barton Warren Stone (from Port Tobacco, MD) who found the Lord under McGready inspired by Gasper's, he arranged for a great meeting at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in his territory of Bourbon County. The crowd grew to tens of thousands, Baptist and Methodists, including clergy, coming together for a week. It would have gone on longer save the logistics prevented it. Barton described the

... miracles, on infidels and unbelievers; for many of them by these were convinced that Jesus was the Christ, and bowed in submission to Him.

This famous outpouring, compared with the Holy Spirit's at Pentecost (Acts, chapter 2) changed the lives of rough living rural folk, even though the manifestations were the opposite of their New England counterparts, with emotional and physical reactions quite dramatic. (Contemporary examples of these same phenomenon are the: Azuza Street Church -- tongues were predominate here, but probably not at Cane Ridge{c. 1900}, The Toronto Blessing -- famous for the same kind of barking and laughing -- , and the Brownsville Revival -- lots of crying, singing, and repentance--. {1990's}) They were "slain in the Spirit" (falling down) and uttered vocal outbursts, as well as jerking and "dancing in the Spirit." There was "Holy laughter" and "singing in the Spirit." Similar parallel peers can be seen with (as the derisive names show) Shakers and Quakers. Tremendous criticism arose to meet this non standard approach to Christianity. (This division still exists today, a Devilish schism in the Body)

By the 1820's Methodists and Baptists grew a thousand fold following this Fresh Fire, and Presbyterians suffered some division, (some becoming "Stonites") but more importantly a non-denominational movement began to grow from this event. The revivalist Christian Connection, or "Christians" who strove for a more "primitive gospel developed out of the Freewill Baptists, but there were impediments to merging because of Unitarian sympathies. Another "Christian" movement came out of the Methodists, especially espoused by Rice Haggard that claimed that term, "Christian," was the only authentic name for the believer.

The "Disciples" (also called 'Reformers' and 'Christians') emerged primarily from the work of an ex-Presbyterian, Alexander Campbell, who brought the ideas of John Locke into his movement, especially simplifying the Sacraments, e.g. Baptism follows a command, not a supernatural washing of sins. He had many other peers contributing in like manner throughout this New World Frontier.

Thus, with this "Latter Rain," American Christian Religion was changed as radically as Judaism was transformed when "tongues of fire" came down on those other early Christians.

Source: A Religious History of the American People Sydney E. Ahlstom; Yale Press, 1972

The Second Great Awakening as a Movement Towards Democracy


The Second Great Awakening, a religious movement that consumed America in the mid-1800’s, was, at its heart, a drive for a more democratic nation. Though the Second Great Awakening began as a push to bring religion back into American life, it quickly became focused on improving the quality of life of the citizens of America and empowering them to take charge of their religious and secular lives to become contributing members of society. The Awakening’s attempted reforms, aimed at improving the moral landscape of the country, giving power back to the “common man,” and empowering black slaves and women, was mainly a success. Though not all of the fruit planted by the Awakening were immediately ripe for picking, in time, the seeds of thought sewn by the Awakening eventually yielded a ripe harvest of equality and a more moral life.

Moral Reforms

The most obvious way that the leaders of the Second Great Awakening attempted to expand democratic ideals was in their pursuit of moral reforms. The Awakening was, in fact, begun to combat American moral stagnation. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University, and believed to have begun the religious movement, shocked at his students’ supposedly lax moral standards began preaching to them a gospel consisting of upright living. These exhortations caused many of Yale’s student body to convert to Christianity and, with other collegiate converts from universities all over the country, become actively involved in missionary work with the poor. This included helping to feed and clothe their bodies as well as tend to their spiritual needs. (Dictionary of American History 238). Though this attempted moral reformation is not usually seen as a democratic reform, it did aid in the furtherance of democracy. A “moral society” will elect upstanding leaders who will in turn govern over the people justly and fairly, respecting the natural rights so important in any democratic nation. In addition, a civic-minded populace will willingly perform works of charity to the poor and disadvantaged, an important trait in advanced societies.

Moral reformation did not stop there. Instead, the movement, branching off from its collegiate roots, stressed the importance of leading an upstanding life. Christian preachers began combating such perceived immoralities as alcoholism and doing work on Sundays, which was seen as a slight against the Sabbath (The American Destiny 99). In doing this, they hoped to hasten the coming of the Millennium, or thousand years of prosperity believed by some to precede Christ’s Second Coming (Donald “Evangelicalism, Revivalism, and the Second Great Awakening”).

However, the moral reforms introduced by the Second Great Awakening did not always succeed. For example, attempts by the Christian clergymen leading the Awakening to stop the Sunday mail and therefore allow Christians to devote the day entirely to God, an important belief held by the clergy, ultimately met with failure. The Congress ultimately decided that doing so would violate the Separation Clause of the First Amendment and would combine Church and State, disenfranchising non-Christians (Johnson 284-288). Nevertheless, despite occasional failures such as these, the Second Great Awakening did instill in the American populace a sense of moral obligation to God and fellow human being, thus increasing public concern for the disenfranchised and causing attempts to alleviate social problems.

Putting Emphasis on the "Common Man"

Another way that the Second Great Awakening further democratized America was its emphasis on the common person. One of the most important examples of this was the use of the camp meeting. Used by most Protestant denominations, but perfected by the Methodists, the meeting tent was an important tool in Christian conversions. It gathered huge crowds, sometimes numbering thousands, together to listen to the fiery orations of several clergy members (The American Destiny 101-102). Besides causing the spiritual conversions of many, the use of the meeting tent highlighted the new interest in converting the common American to Christianity; the clergy was no longer too “sacred” to “stoop” on a level with the average person. This commingling of people from all walks of life also caused the average American to become aware of a wider world beyond the immediate area that warranted care and concern.

Changing philosophy during the Second Awakening also caused more emphasis to be placed on the average person. Leading Christian leaders of the time, such as Charles Finney and Lyman Beecher, rejected the Calvinist philosophy of predestination. Instead of subscribing to the elitist doctrine of the “elect,” they argued that one’s destiny was in his/her hands, that a person’s faith determined whether or not he/she would be admitted into Heaven, they placed more power in the common person than ever before. Instead of believing that God was in control of a person’s destiny, theologists now placed one’s destiny in his/her own hands; a person was responsible for him/herself. The logical next step is that people can also be given responsibility to govern themselves (Donald “Evangelicalism, Revivalism, and the Second Great Awakening”).

New religions founded at this time expanded on this radical new approach to personal empowerment. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormon Church, is one important example of this new trust in the common person. In the Mormon religion, all adult males are considered members of the priesthood. Rather than having an established clergy, the laity performs all of the religious duties normally held by priests in other religions (Donald “Mormonism and the American Mainstream”).

Equality for Women and Slaves

Most importantly of all, the Second Great Awakening promoted equality for all, including women and black slaves. In a marked departure from Orthodox views, women were now even religious leaders. Two of these women preachers, Jemima Wilkinson and Ann Lee, even branched off to form their own Christian sects where they preached equality between the sexes (The American Destiny 104). Women, now experiencing greater involvement in religion than ever before at the camp meetings, began demanding a greater involvement in secular governance.

In addition, the roots of the anti-slavery movement began to take root in this time period. Former black slaves, now freed, were joining in on the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening and forming churches of their own. The members of these mostly Baptist and Methodist Churches began complaining of the deplorable conditions that their enslaved brethren were suffering in. Theses churches also helped direct the infant abolitionist movement away from its goal of relocating slaves back to Africa. Instead, they steered the movement to a push for emancipation and rights inside America (The American Destiny 108).


The Second Great Awakening, the religious fervor that spread like wildfire throughout much of the United States during the mid-19th century, helped to further American democracy in important ways. Though not all attempts were successful, the Christian clergymen that were the backbone of the Awakening attempted to moralize the American populace as well as save its souls. They also, for the first time, placed great trust in the average person, giving him/her religious control over his/her destiny. Finally, the Awakening also helped lead to a more cohesive women’s rights and abolitionist movements, which now could derive their authority from religion and God. Taken together, the efforts of leaders such as Charles Finney placed more trust and power in the common people than ever before, an important step in the further democratization of America.

Works Cited

  • The American Destiny. Yugoslavia: Grolier Enterprises Inc., 1986.
  • The Annals of America. USA: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1976.
  • Scott, Donald. “Evangelicalism, Revivalism, and the Second Great Awakening.” October 2000. 3/2/03. <>.
  • Scott, Donald. “Mormonism and the American Mainstream.” October 2000. 3/2/03. <>.

An example of noding your homework.

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